The first quarter looked a lot like the first quarter from last year’s Montgomery Academy-St. James game, which ended in a rout by the Trojans.
The first two Montgomery Academy possessions had more mistakes than positive plays.
There were fumbled exchanges, dropped kickoffs and shanked punts.
Less than eight minutes into the game, St. James had a 13-0 lead.
The rout, it appeared, was on.
But if the first quarter showed all of the Eagles’ shortcomings, the next three would show their strengths.
A 60-yard punt return by Josh Thomas for a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter ignited the rally, and Montgomery Academy went on to a stunning 28-13 win over the Trojans at McLemore Field on Friday night in the season opener for both teams.
“It feels good,” Thomas said. “We haven’t beaten St. James in I don’t know how long.”
Thomas’ statistics weren’t particularly impressive — five tackles on defense, 58 yards rushing on 10 carries on offense while completing 5 of 13 passes for 81 yards while throwing two interceptions.
But that 60-yard punt return, a spinning move after catching the ball to avoid a tackle and then a sprint for the end zone, was something special.
“When I caught it, I just saw a lane and everybody made their block, and I just read their blocks and scored,” Thomas said. “It gave us a huge boost.”
“That was a momentum shifter,” Montgomery Academy coach Anthony McCall added. “The idea is to get the ball in your best player’s hands as often as you can, and fortunately, we got a punt and made a play.”
Frank Moody, who had 104 yards rushing and the Trojans’ first touchdown in the first 22 minutes of the game, would finish with 158 yards on 22 carries but was relatively ineffective in the second half as the Eagles tightened their defense.
“We played within our scheme,” Montgomery Academy senior Justin Woolfolk said. “When you play within your scheme, stuff like that happens. You shut down the run game.”
The Eagles, who had taken a one-point lead on a fourth-and-2 carry for 19 yards by Thomas, followed by his 1-yard quarterback sneak, would demoralize the Trojans on a weaving 77-yard run by Woolfolk with 38 seconds left while trying to run out the first-half clock.
“I just saw a lane,” Woolfolk said. “I was going off the stuff I went off of last year. One cut and go right up the field. The way I see it, one cut is all it takes and nobody will catch me. I definitely think the big plays Josh made gave us some momentum and what I did kept that momentum going.”
Woolfolk would repeat his magic late in the third quarter on a 56-yard touchdown run and finished with 214 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 13 carries.
“They got the big play on the punt return, and it kind of ignited them,” St. James coach Jimmy Perry said. “We had five fumbled snaps and shot ourselves in the foot on offense a lot. Then, they’re running the clock out in the first half, and we dive and miss a tackle, and they’re 88 and out the gate.
“We didn’t do a whole lot to help ourselves tonight. We’ve got a lot to work on. Our kids are great kids. We’ll bounce back and be fine, we just have to get to work.”